KAI Expeditions ~ Oasis Project

We’re proud to welcome our partners at KAI Marine with their first feature article.  KAI’s mission is to deliver scientific, technical and communication solutions for a sustainable use of marine resources. ~ Ed.

KAI Expedition’s research vessel, the Luis Ginillo,  has arrived in Mahón, where a unique team of international scientists will conduct experiments for Fundación Biodiversidad’s  OASIS Project.

During the first three weeks of April a research team from KAI Marine Services, Alnitak, NOAA, Hopkins Marine Station, Groupe de Tortues Marines de France, HYDRA Institute and National Geographic have been working in the southwest Mediterranean where loggerhead turtles aggregate to feed during their transoceanic life cycles.

Loggerhead turtles born on the nesting beaches of the east coast of the US enter the Mediterranean following the course of the Gulf Stream to find ideal conditions for their first phase of life. They drift passively like a small oasis aggregating algae, invertebrates, and providing shade and shelter for bait balls of small pelagic fish that in turn provide food for top predators such as sharks, cetaceans and the world famous bluefin tuna. This “fish aggregating” effect is one of the main questions the Fundación Biodiversidad “OASIS Project” is looking at.

Photo: Kai Marine

Photo: Kai Marine

Unfortunately this region of the southwest Mediterranean is a hotspot for more than biodiversity. The transit of over 25% of the world’s maritime transport, the aggregation of marine debris in the frontal zones of the north Atlantic gyre and the overlap with certain fisheries, results in a very high risk for marine turtles here. For the conservation of the North Atlantic and Mediterranean loggerhead turtle populations, the experiments to be conducted here are of special relevance. A better understanding of foraging, habitat use, diving patterns and sensorial biology should allow researchers to find new solutions to the threats of bycatch in fisheries, debris pollution and ship strikes.

The project involves satellite and radio tracking as well as the use of National Geographic’s Crittercam®.  Apart from scientific institutions, such as IMEDEA – SOCIB, IEO and the Hydra Institute, the project counts on the collaboration of the Spanish longline fleet, the Spanish General Secretariat of Fishing and the association of fishermen – CEPESCA. Work in collaboration with this fishing sector dates as far back as 1986 and it has recently solved the important problem of the bycatch of over 20,000 loggerhead turtles per year in this region occurring in the swordfish fishery.

Now, through the OASIS Project scientists are focusing on other fisheries that have interactions with protected species, such as bluefin tuna poundnets around the Gibraltar Strait, lobster trammel nets in the Balearic Islands and artisanal longlining for albacore tuna that sets very small hooks in surface waters where turtles aggregate during their passive oceanic migration phase.

The Luis Ginillo has entered the harbour of Mahon on the Island of Menorca after a very successful week working with the lobster fishery trying to develop an experimental trap that scientists hope could enhance a progressive replacement of the many trammel nets currently used.

Photo (c) Kai Marine

Photo (c) Kai Marine

After working with a team of 3 National Geographic scientists that boarded KAI’s research vessel with their latest model of Crittercam®, the Luis Ginillo has been conducting several experiments to prepare for the deployment later this month of satellite and acoustic tags in collaboration with the Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford Univertsity.  This expedition is unique not only in its international and interdisciplinary research team composed of 12 researchers from 9 nations; most notably, what stands out about this expedition is that it has only been made possible by linking the world of applied science with the general public. Now, on every 7 day expedition, up to eight volunteers are given the opportunity of becoming a ‘Jacques Yves Cousteau,’ participating actively in the design of marine protected areas in the Mediterranean and conducting research which will develop tangible solutions to the challenges our marine environment is facing. After Menorca, the sailing vessel will head to Sicily and then to Malta where it will conduct further work on sea turtles, cetaceans and other pelagic species with the aim of designing marine protected areas.

For further information: www.kaiexpeditions.com or follow current events on board at www.luisginillo.wordpress.com

 Feature Photo (c): Kai Marine

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